Author Interview: Smoky Zeidel

15 02 2013

This week we’ve interviewed Smoky Zeidel about her book The Storyteller’s Bracelet. Her book tells the tale of two young Native Americans who must travel to a white boarding school. The book explores identity, loss, and hope in a raw, realistic way.

What makes a good story?

A good story grabs you from the very first sentence and piques a curiosity about what will happen to your characters that makes it difficult to set the book down. A good story has characters with flaws, like people are flawed. You see the vulnerabilities and strengths in your protagonist(s), but you also see the humanity in your antagonist(s), because no one is completely bad. A good story transports the reader from the safety of their reading chair to worlds they can only imagine, and makes it seem like the reader is actually there. When you reach the end of a good story, you feel regret, for you feel you are losing your new best friend.

What do you do when you are not writing?

My husband Scott and I are outdoors people. When I’m not writing, we are exploring the mountains, desert, and ocean that are all within an hour’s drive of our home. We hike, we camp, we take pictures. In the warmer months, we like to garden, although we have to garden upside-down! We have success only when we plant our tomatoes, beans, and peppers in hanging planters, because otherwise, the neighborhood squirrels decimate the garden before it even fruits. I also love to create art that isn’t the written word, using mostly driftwood, shells, and glass beads. I recently took up crocheting after a 30-year hiatus from needlework, and I find that a soothing way to wind down at the end of the day. And it goes without saying, I’m an avid reader!

What was the first story you wrote about?

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at this question! The first true creative writing I did was in the sixth grade. We were giving an assignment in English class to right a story called “Thoughts of ________.” The teacher passed around a hat with slips of paper listing inanimate objects with which to fill in that blank. I drew “acne pimple.” So my first creative work was titled “Thoughts of an Acne Pimple.” I actually did a great job with it and got an A+. But did I ever envy the girl who drew “Cinderella’s Pumpkin Carriage”!

What drew you to writing about Native American culture?

I’ve always been appalled by the shameful way the First Nations have been treated by our government. I remember standing in the enormous hall in Chicago’s Field Museum where totem poles are displayed and feeling that something was terribly, terribly wrong with them being there. I was only six or seven; I had no way of knowing the totem poles had been stolen from the Northwestern Tribes. But I could feel something was wrong.

When my sister gave me a storyteller’s bracelet she’d bought at Mesa Verde National Park as a birthday gift, I fell in love with it. I was searching for inspiration for a third novel, and the bracelet just captivated me. I mediated on it, I wore it 24/7. Eventually, my story came to me.

What research did you have to do to bring The Storyteller’s Bracelet to life?

I studied books and everything I could find on the Internet about the Indian boarding schools in the late 1800s. I had a long talk with a Navajo silversmith about storyteller’s bracelets, and also about the boarding school experience. His grandmother had been sent away, and he had heard her stories and shared them with me. I’ve traveled the Southwest extensively, so the setting for the parts of the story that take part there were taken from my own travels and experiences.

I am also blessed that I’m an active lucid dreamer. A lot of the story came from these experiences. It was almost like I was channeling Sun Song and Otter. And who knows? Maybe I was!

Did you travel to any Native American Boarding schools while writing your book?

Unfortunately, no. There are still schools out there, but the experiences today are much more positive than they were 100+ years ago. I don’t think I could have garnered any new information by visiting them.

Are Sun Song and Otter based off of real people?

Sun Song and Otter are completely taken from my imagination. This was a change for me, as some of the characters in my previous novels, The Cabin and On the Choptank Shores (formerly titled Redeeming Grace) are based on real people. But because I took them completely from my imagination, I chose to say they came from a group called simply The Tribe. The story strongly suggests they are either Navajo or Hopi, because I wove so many elements from these tribes into Sun Song and Otter’s experiences.  But I am not from the First Nations, and I don’t pretend to be. I wanted to honor their heritage without claiming it, so I created an imaginary Tribe.

Which character was the most fun to write?

Sun Song, without a doubt. My heart broke writing the chapters where she is being … I don’t want to give too much away … being tormented at school by the headmaster. But when she comes into her power at the end of the book? That was fabulous to write. I dreamed her entire mystical transformation while meditating on my deck one afternoon, and it was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

I’m pleased to say work on my book Trails is nearly complete. Co-written by my husband Scott, Trails is a collection of essays, poems, and stories about the many trails we take through life, from our Personal Pathways to The End of the Road and every trail in between. The title, Trails, is a metaphor for our journey through life together, and the individual chapters represent random experiences (both voluntary and involuntary) along the way.

Once Trails is released next month, I’ll return to working on my next novel, titled The Madam of Bodie. It’s loosely based on the life of a prostitute who lived in what was, at the time, known as “the biggest, baddest town in the West,” the mining town of Bodie, California. I’m about a quarter of the way through it already, and I’m very proud of what I’ve written so far.

After The Madam of Bodie I’ll begin writing the first sequel I’ve ever written, a sequel to The Storyteller’s Bracelet. Called The Storyteller’s Daughter, it will pick up where The Storyteller’s Bracelet left off, in the Fifth World, and will chronicle the life of little Yazhi and Tocho as they grow up in the new world. I’m very excited about this book, too, and wanting to write it keeps me motivated to finish the projects already in the works. Every novelist’s worst nightmare is not knowing what they’ll write next. I’m blessed that, at least for now, I don’t have that problem.

Where can we buy your books?

All the usual venues, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. My books are available in print and nearly all electronic formats. I have buy links on my Website, at http://smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/book-buy-links/. If you go there, you can click on a link to buy the book of your choice at the merchant of your choice. I’ve made it very easy.

Get to know Smoky Zeidel

Website: http://smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Smoky.Zeidel.Writes

Twitter: @SmokyZeidel.  I follow back.

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4 responses

17 02 2013
Smoky Zeidel

Thank you, Carolyn, for hosting me here and letting me talk about my new book.

17 02 2013
melindaclayton

Smoky, I think I remember reading long ago in an interview that you had a connection to Mesa Verde, but I’d forgotten. Love Mesa Verde – it’s fabulous inspiration. I learned so much from your book, and I thank you for that.

18 02 2013
Susan Woods Claridge

Awesome interview!!

19 02 2013
Author Charmaine Gordon

Thanks for this comprehensive, insightful interview in the life and times of Smoky Zeidel and her mate, Scott. I always come away learning something and this time is no different

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